Up the Ottawa River, Chateau Montebello, The Ottawa Step Locks, and starting The Rideau Canal

98 Days Looping
1,646.4 Nautical Miles Total (1,894.6 Statute Miles)
137.2 Nautical Miles This Week
20.4 Hours Underway This Week
7.0 NMph Average Speed
20 Locks This Week, 56 Total Locks

Monday – July 15th – 0 NM – In: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
On our last day in Montreal, we crossed the railroad tracks and walked up the hill to the museum where we had seen the Red Coats drilling the morning before. It is called “Chateau Ramezay” which was built in 1705 and was the governor of Montreal’s house. We took a guided tour of the gardens and the house and collection. The gardens are English-style manicured gardens but as was common in the time had three parts, Flower for beauty, structured for the show, and vegetable for food. The guide said that in the 1700s the garden stretched all the way to the river.

After our museum visit, we walked around the old port market area for a while and visited some shops, then headed down to the waterfront park near the old quays. One of the main features of the waterfront park is a sky wheel. It was a beautiful clear day, so we decided to go for a ride and get a birds-eye view. There was no line, and we walked right on. The ride is about 20 minutes and you go around 4 times. There were great views of all of the Old Port area and into downtown Montreal as well as across the river to the Expo 67 park.

When we then walked to the other marina to see if we could catch up with any of our fellow Loopers. We saw two boats, but nobody was home. It was getting very hot so we headed back to the boat to cool down and get things ready for our departure in the morning. When we got back to the marina, we saw that our new boat had been delivered! The “Hampshire” 217 ft, 3 floors, the crew of 17, sleeps 12 guests, cost $150 million. Nice!!! Unfortunately, it won’t fit in the locks or under the bridges we need to go through so we had to send it back.

In the evening, we walked to a unique restaurant we’d seen the “patio” area is inside a building that has been torn down with just the front facade left in place. We had a nice dinner, then headed back to the boat as we planned an early departure to catch the locks before they got busy.

Tuesday – July 16th – 31.9 NM – 3 Locks – To: St. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, Canada
We left Montreal at 7:30 AM to try to catch the big locks before they got busy. We were back-tracking down the South Channel Canal through the two big commercial locks, the St-Lambert and St Catherine, before turning into the Ottawa river toward Ottawa. As we exited the marina, the current was ripping at 6 knots. We put the engines in idle and just let the current carry us for a bit to see what the speed was. Amazing!

We turned out of the current at the entrance to the South Channel Canal and saw that there were already several boats waiting. We pulled into the waiting area, and about 20 minutes later a large freighter “Big Lift” came down the channel and into the lock. Once it was through, we were allowed in. By this time there were some 5 powerboats, us, and 3 sailboats. The lock is large so we all fit in, but they still make you raft up so that the lock staff doesn’t have to drop so many lines. We got through the St-Lambert lock and all cruised to St Catherine lock in a long line like a row of ducks. The speed limit is only 6 miles per hour, and it doesn’t pay to go fast as you have to wait for the slowest boat in the group to arrive (the small sailboat at 4 mph).

When we got to the second lock we had to wait for about 15 minutes due to rail traffic on the bridge that goes over the lock. Once through, it was a short ride to the end of the canal and the cut-off to the Ottawa River.

The trip up the Ottawa river to the St Anne de Bellvue lock was about 10 miles in mostly open water, pretty uneventful. The St Anne lock was our first “Parks Canada” lock. Parks Canada, similar to the US National Parks Service, runs the non-commercial locks in Canada. We purchased a pass that allows us passage through any Parks Canada pass and also the ability to dock at any lock wall or parks dock. All we have to pay for is power at $10 per night, if they have it available, only about 1/3rd of the locks have power available on the tie-ups.

We went through the lock, only about a 3 ft rise, and tied up to the wall just above the lock for the night (no power) at around 3:00. After settling in, we walked about a mile through town and to a local grocery store, for some provisions. On the way back, we kept an eye open for the restaurants along the canal waterfront for dinner ideas. For a small town, quite a distance from Montreal, there were a surprising number of restaurants along the canal waterfront. The area has been re-developed and it’s a nice walking park now.

In the evening we had dinner on the patio of one of the waterfront pubs. Just after we sat down, we got a heavy rain shower, but it didn’t last long. When dinner was finished, we walked back to the boat and listened to the trains go over the railroad bridges, (2 bridges, 4 tracks) until bedtime. This is the main line between Montreal and Toronto so it was very busy. Fortunately, unlike some of the places we’d been with trains, there was not a crossing nearby so they were not constantly blowing their horns.

Wednesday – July 17th – 48.9 NM – 1 Lock – To: Montebello, Quebec, Canada
A number of people we’d met along the way had recommended that we stop at the Chateau Montebello. It’s the largest log structure in North America and is a Fairmont Hotel & Resort. Aside from the uniqueness of the hotel, they have a BBQ buffet that is famous! We had called ahead from Montreal for reservations, as the marina and restaurants both require them. So at 7:45, we set off from Sainte Anne-de-Bellevue for the 48 miles, one-lock run up the Ottawa River to Montebello.

The Ottawa River here is very wide and is actually a series of connected lakes that is the border between the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. As you navigate the river, you are moving from Quebec to Ontario and back again constantly. The scenery was very nice, with lots of farms, and nice houses along the banks, but many sections were pretty dull with just trees and the occasional house.

An interesting feature of the route is that there are very few bridges between the two Provinces, instead, they have ferry boats that take vehicles and passengers across. On the trip, we crossed 5 or 6 ferry crossings. Some of the Ferries are what are called “Cable Ferries”. There is a cable that stretches from bank to bank and lies on the bottom of the river. As the ferry moves across the river, the cable is pulled up, runs through the ferry, and then back down to the river bottom. You don’t want to cross too close to the front or back of the ferry as the cable can extend at a shallow depth for a distance in front and behind.

The amount of ferry traffic was also impressive. As we went upriver, each crossing had at least two boats with some having 4 and they were in constant motion. Each would leave the opposite bank at approximately the same time, pass each other in the middle, and dock on the other side at about the same time. They would unload the 4-8 vehicles, reload and start back the other way all in about 5 minutes.

At 10:30 we reached the Carillon Canal, which is actually a very short 1/4 mile canal, with a huge dam and lock. At 65 ft it’s the highest lift we have had on the trip so far. The lock door was open as we approached and there were already some smaller boats in the lock. As we moved in, there was another Looper boat “Thunderbolt” tied up to the waiting dock. They were stopping to take a tour of the Hydro Station and they took a few photos of us as we entered the lock.

Inside the lock is impressive. There is a floating dock inside, that the lock operators tie you up to, and then they ride up (or down) with you. After we were tied up, a couple of Sûreté  (Police) cadets came over and chatted with us about the different boating laws between Quebec and Ontario provinces. They explained that in Quebec, open containers of alcohol are allowed in boats underway, but the operator is not allowed to drink. In Ontario, alcohol is only allowed to be consumed on boats with a bedroom, bathroom, and cooking facilities, but may only be consumed while docked and not by the operator. Because the river is the border between the two provinces, they suggested “If you are going to drink, stay on the Quebec side!”

The lift up 65 ft took about 15 minutes, and as we reached the top, we saw another Looper boat “Soul Shine” waiting to go down. We shouted hello’s as we passed and continued up the river toward Montebello.

The rest of the trip up to Montebello was pretty much the same, lots of trees and pretty farms, a few lighthouses, another ferry or two, some interesting sand bars. We were surprised at the varying depth of the water. In some places we would have 20-25 feet, then within a short distance, the depth would drop to over 200 ft. Before the area was flooded by the dam, it must have been a gorge that the river ran through. You can see the contours in the land on the hillsides surrounding the river as there were many gorges going up the hillsides with bridges crossing them. Just after 2:00, we arrived in Montebello and got our first look at the Log Chateau.

The Chateau Montebello is an amazing structure. Built in 1930 it took just 3 months to complete from the clearing of the land to opening. At the peak, there were 3,500 people working on the structure with construction going on 24 hours a day. They even built a railroad line to the hotel site to bring in the massive timbers, stone, and other building materials. The building was built using 10,000 red-cedar logs in the construction.

The Fairmont is the hotel company that split off from the Canadian National Railway and runs many of the large 5-star hotels in Canada. It is a top resort hotel destination with 220 rooms and has attracted famous guests such as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, Bing Crosby, and Bette Davis. It has also hosted a G7 summit with Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and François Mitterrand staying at the hotel.

When we pulled into the marina, we saw a familiar boat at the dock in front of us. Rockhopper, who we had met in the locks in the St. Lawrence Seaway was there! After tying up and checking in, we chatted with Rockhopper, then went for a walk to explore the Chateau.

It is a truly amazing building! The outside is very rustic, but there are top-notch facilities, two pools, (an outdoor pool, and an indoor pool accessed by a tunnel from the main hotel. A full Spa, Sports facilities, Horseback Riding, a full-service Marina, a “Land Rover Experience”, hiking trails, bicycle rentals, and in the winter cross country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, curling, and snowmobiling facilities, just about everything you could want! Bed & Breakfast start at about $275 USD per night. While the slip rental is expensive, $4.00 CAD per foot, plus tax and electric per night. It’s cheaper to sleep on your boat than in the hotel. Of course, if you get a room at the hotel, all you have to pay for is power. How nice of them!

In the evening, we had reservations for the BBQ Buffet which in good weather is served outside on the patio. The buffet was excellent with all sorts of salads, sides, and smoked sausages, “Smoked Meat”, Brisket, pulled port, smokes salmon and trout, BBQ lamb, and all sorts of other side dishes. Our waitress was very friendly and informative having grown up in the area. One of the hotel directors was sitting beside us, she had been with the hotel for over 30 years and we had a great conversation with her as well.

Thursday – July 18th – 36.5 NM – 0 Locks – To: Ottawa (Hull), Ontario, Canada
Thursday we had a straight run to Ottawa, the capital of Canada. We left Montebello at 9:45 and headed up the Ottawa river. We had a reservation at the Hull Municipal Marina, which is right across the river in Quebec Province, from the entrance to the Rideau Canal.

The scenery was pretty much the same as the day before. Lots of farms, large homes, marinas, and ferry crossings. We had seen a few seaplanes on the banks on the way up, and the frequency of those increased as well.

We got to Ottawa at around 2:00 and got our first view of the city skyline, and the Rideau River Falls. The tour boats treat it as a mini Niagara falls and do a “Maid of the Mist” pass up to the edge of the falls. In a day or two, we’ll be going up “The Steps” a series of 8 locks that bypass the Rideau Falls and connect boats from the Rideau River/Canal to the Ottawa River.

We pulled into our slip and got settled in. We’d had higher than normal temps over the last few days, but today was the Heat Wave that the rest of the east coast was feeling and it reached 90. We checked into the marina, walked to a local convenience store to get some jugs of drinking water, and then went back to the boat to stay cool. The view from the marina was great. Directly across from us was the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel which looks like a castle, and behind the bridge, was the Canadian Parliament building. In the evening we ate on the boat with the A/C cranked to stay cool and fended off the geese who were upset that we’d taken their dock space.

Friday – July 19th – 0 NM – In: Ottawa (Hull), Ontario, Canada
Friday was our Ottawa sightseeing day. We left the boat at around 9:00 and took a water taxi across the river to the base of “The Steps”, the locks that we’d be doing on Saturday. We got a mini-tour from the water taxi driver. The water taxis are electric pontoon boats with solar re-charging while running. They do about 3 knots and do a 1/2 mile per leg triangle around downtown between the Canadian History Museum (which is right next to the marina), The base of the Rideau Canal locks in front of the Parliament building, and Richmond landing near the Canadian Supreme Court building. The ride between each stop is about 10 minutes and you can get a good view of the sights.

We boarded the taxi at the Canadian History Museum, went to the Richmond Landing, then to the Rideau Canal landing. The taxi starts running at 9:30, and while we were waiting for it to arrive, we got our first good view of the steps and saw, that on a Friday morning, there were already 10 boats in line to lock up. Each locking can take between 6 and 10 boats depending on the size, so there were already a few boats that would have to wait at least a few hours before they would get their turn. They do one or two groups up, then one or two groups down depending on how many are waiting in each direction.

When we got to the Lock stop, we got off and walked up the lock to see what we were in for when our turn came. Almost all of the locks on the Rideau are hand-cranked, and given the heat (at 10:00 it was already in the mid 80’s) these kids get a real workout. Crank the doors open, crank the doors closed, crank open the flood gates, crank closed the flood gates, crank open the doors at the other end of the lock. Climb a flight of steep stairs, repeat…. 8 times! Turn around and do it again going down.

We chatted with the lockmaster letting him know that we planned to do our locking on Saturday morning. He made two suggestions; If you can, do it Sunday morning, it will be less busy. If you want to be in the first 9 AM locking, you need to be in line by 7 AM. Given the advice, we decided to stay in Ottawa an extra day and do our locking on Sunday morning.

When we reached the top of the locks, we ran into a Looper boat “Not Ready” that we had met along the Erie Canal who were waiting to lockdown. We chatted with them for a while, then climbed to the top of the bridge overlooking the locks to watch them start their way down and grab a few photos.

After saying goodbye to Knot Ready, we walked around downtown Ottawa seeing the sights. We walked past the Museum of Art, visited a bakery looking for the famous “Butter Tarts” (no luck), visited the Byward Market district, then walked to the Rideau Falls. It was really hot and humid, and we were soaked and tired by the time we reached the falls. There is a small cafe that overlooks the falls, so we stopped and had a cold beverage! After crossing over the falls, we checked Google maps, and we were about a 4-mile walk from the boat across a bridge, so decided to take an Uber back to the marina and save ourselves for the next day.

Saturday – July 20th – 0 NM – In: Ottawa (Hull), Ontario, Canada
Because we decided to delay our journey up the Lock Steps until Sunday to avoid some of the traffic, we took the day to visit the Canadian History Museum which was right next door to the marina. The museum is in a very large two-building complex with some great curving architecture. It follows the history of Canada from pre-historic (Woolly Mammoth) and the “First Nation” (the original native inhabitants), through the French, British colonization and up to Modern times.

When we were in Montreal, I talked about how disappointed I was that there was such an effort to be French rather than Canadian. Well, this museum fixed that! I got my dose of Canadian history! There is a lot of interesting history in Canada that we have never been exposed to. Canada has had its share of internal conflict like the US, has had a history of war and fear of invasion with the United States, and its own internal political conflicts. It’s also had a great deal of culture and is a very open and apologetic society. A great deal of Canada’s history, both early and recent surrounds its interaction with the First Nation peoples (what in the US we’d refer to as the Native Americans). Similar to the integration and civil rights movements with African Americans in the US, the Canadians have worked to involve their First Nation and some of the early settler groups such as the Acadians and the Métis peoples, a mixture of the earliest French settlers and the native peoples.

The displays show the culture, contributions, conflicts, and Canada’s work to integrate these cultures into Canada as a whole. They also discuss Quebec’s succession votes. One of the prides of Canada is their contribution during World War 1 and 2 and to the United Nations peace-keeping forces and humanitarian aid. There is a section dedicated to honoring their involvement and veterans.

The entire first floor with a three-story gallery is currently showing a display of First Nation art including totem poles, masks, and other historical artifacts.

We ended up spending almost 6 hours walking around and viewing all of the displays. If you are ever in Ottawa, schedule a day to visit the Canadian History museum! We came away with a much greater understanding and respect for our neighbors to the north.

In the evening, we walked across the bridge to the ByWard Market area and had dinner at a Pub style restaurant, then back to the boat for an early turn in to be well-rested for the “8 Step Locks” in the morning. As we walked back across the bridge to the boat, we saw that there were already two boats spending the night at the wall to be first in line for the locks in the morning!

Sunday – July 21st – 19.9 NM – 16 Locks – To: Manotick, Ontario, Canada
After seeing the crowd of boats on Friday and Saturday, we got up early and crossed the river to the “Blue Line” (the portion of the dock painted blue where you wait to go through a lock) at 7:30. The two boats we had seen the night before, were still there, so that made us third in line. The locks don’t open until 9:00, and it’s usually about 9:30 before they have the first group of boats organized and in the lock ready to go. Shortly after 8, we saw a few more boats arrive By 8:30 there were 15 boats including Thunderbolt who we had met at the Marina, and by 9:00 there were 22 waiting. Depending on size they can only fit 6-8 boats in the locks, so the folks at the end of the line were looking at a 2-3 hour wait! We heard that in the end there were a total of 25 boats that went up the steps in the morning run on Sunday!

While we were waiting, we had breakfast and chatted with some of the other boaters. At 9:00 the lockmaster stopped by and tried to get an idea of what order people had arrived. Because of limited dock space, the first boats are tied up to the dock, and the later boats tie up to the first boats. When things start to move, there’s a big shuffle as the boats on the outside have to move to let the boats tied up to the dock get out. In general it’s first come, first served, and it gets a little heated when people try to cut the line!

Because of our size, we were put in first, and we tie off to the wall, Brenda at the bow, and after positioning the boat, I would run to the back and tie off. All of the locks on the Rideau have big plastic-covered cables down the lock walls that you loop your rope through and hold on. Once we were in place, the two smaller boats that were there first came in, one tied up to the opposite wall, and the other rafted to it. There was another set of two behind us, and one more in the back corner so our lift was six boats.

Before you get to the next set of pictures with us in the locks, I must warn you. First, it was already close to 80 degrees when we started the locks. Secondly, as we were warned, Canadians (especially those from Quebec) have no sense of modesty. So large or small, young or old, pretty or not so much, most of the men wear speedo’s and no shirts, and the women wear bikinis. So… It’s quite a show! Also, the “Steps Locks” go up right through the middle of Ottawa between the Parliament building and the Fairmont Hotel with a large bridge at the top overlooking it. It’s the middle of the tourist area and boats coming up the locks are a huge attraction. So, as you go up, there are hundreds of tourists watching you and chatting with you while you are trying to manage lines, move the boat without hitting anything. Utter chaos!

By the third step, we’d pretty much gotten a system down for getting up to the wall and tying off. With our boat, it’s a bit challenging as we have a fairly pointed bow, so you have to angle the boat toward the wall first so that Brenda can reach the cable, then once she has her line around, swing the back end in, to catch the other cable. I’m SO GLAD that we installed the stern thruster! The other challenge for a boat our size is that it weighs a bit over 6.5 tons. So, if current or wind catches it, that’s a lot of weight pulling you away from the wall or trying to spin you.

It was a lot of work, but very fun going up the steps! The trip up took us about 2 hours, and around 11:30 we reached the top, went under the bridge, and into the Rideau canal proper. We were fortunate in that most of the boats in our first lift were stopping at the parking wall along the canal at the top of the locks, so we only had two boats behind us as we cruised through Ottawa.

The Rideau canal through Ottawa is a dug canal with stone walls. It is the bypass for the Rideau Falls that we had visited the day before. It doesn’t re-join the Rideau River for several miles. This section is what you expect a canal to look like, narrow, with bike paths, walking trails, and small outdoor bistros along each bank. The speed limit in many sections of the canal especially in the narrow areas is 10 KPH (about 6 mph) but in many areas, you have to go slower as the canal twists and turns, so basically jogging speed. We know this as bikes, joggers, and even some fast walkers were passing us at times.

We reached the Pretoria Bridge, our first lift bridge about two miles from the top. While we were waiting for it to open, one of the river cruise boats passed us and slipped under the 12′ opening. When it opened (we were expecting it to be a drawbridge that lifted one end, but the entire bridge went up like some of the huge lift bridges we’d seen on the St. Lawrence Seaway, very unique!) we went through and continued to the Hartwell Locks (#9 and #10). We only had to wait for a minute or two for these locks, so we just hovered in the channel. These were fairly straight forward one right after the other like the steps. At 5.5 miles from the start, we reached the Hogs Back locks (#11 and #12). On Lock 11, there was a significant amount of water leaking under the lock doors (they replace them about every 10-20 years, and these were old!) and just as Brenda was reaching for the cable with the boat pole, the bow got caught in the current and swung away. Brenda tried to hold onto the pole, but it was either the pole or her going into the drink, and she choose the pole. Fortunately, I was able to get the bow back over for her to tie on, and our poles float, so I was able to fish it out. (Good thing, I would have hated to lose a pole!) After these locks, is where the Canal re-joins the Rideau river, so it widened out a bit, and the edges were more tree-lined banks.

Just after the locks is Mooney’s Bay where almost the entire bay is floating buoys marking lanes for rowing races. The channel skirts the north edge of the bay, then reenters a narrower channel. At 9.5 miles, we reached the Black Rapids lock, which was just one lock (#13). The area surrounding the river started to change from suburban to rural with longer stretches of tree-lined banks and more summer cottages rather than full-time homes. At mile 14 we reached the Long Island locks (#14 and #15). For most of the locks, we only had short waits for the doors to open, or for boats heading the other way to clear through. Because we were at the head of the pack heading downstream for the day, we didn’t experience many long waits to lock through.

The last few miles we were in more open water and were able to get up to about 10 knots from time to time. At just before 6:00, we got to Hurst Marina at mile 18, our stop for the night. 11 hours, 16 locks! We were beat! We tied up the boat, and walked to a little restaurant next to the marina for dinner before we hit the sheets! We were rewarded for all our hard work, WE GOT BUTTER TARTS!!!!! They were on the dessert menu at the restaurant, so we got them to go and took them back to the boat for breakfast on Monday.

Next Week: We continue down the Rideau Canal.

Kiss Some Frogs To Find Your Prince
Thanks for visiting! –Tom & Brenda

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